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November 22, 2006
Are We Really Smarter Than Me?
Under the tagline "we are smarter than me", an online collaborative book project has opened itself to public participation.
The draw involves asking people to collaboratively write a book with "authors from MIT, Wharton, and thousands of professionals from around the world." Visitors are invited to become authors in the Creative Commons-licensed project.
The project's goals are lofty - to incorporate the experiences of a potentally large distributed set of contributors. As someone who has edited a conventional book (in which selected authors are each invited to submit a chapter) I can say the amount of overhead this is going to involve will likely be huge. Automated tools (from email/chat boards on up) can help only so much. To some degree this is mitigated by appealing to potential co-authors from a likely limited and dedicated set:L MIT Sloan and Penn Wharton faculty, students, and alumni. To help further the book project is relying on a technology (wiki) and structures of organization surrounding that technology that have shown some past success. The project has a publisher (Pearson) lined up, and a plan to distribute any royalties as charitable donations to organizations selected by the authorial community.
My sense is that in terms of community, infrastructure, and process, this effort is unlikely to break any new ground. The real question, as posed by the site's FAQ, is: "whether a community of authors can write a compelling book better than individual experts." That's an interesting question to test and I wish them success.
(Full disclosure: way back in the dark ages, Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, one of the organizers of this project, worked on some projects to which I minorly contributed.)
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